OERs Rule, MOOCs DROOL

Just put in this proposal to a conference, thought it was worth reposting here as a discussion starter:

The “wrapped MOOC” has gained attention over the past year as a way to integrate MOOCs into traditional education. This presentation will present results of interviews with practitioners of this method to show that in practice most educators are not “wrapping” the cohort experience, but are instead using the MOOC as robust OER.  This trend is discussed in terms of “distributed flip” and “distributed blend” models, as well as David Wiley’s joking but correct observation that MOOCs are distraction from the potential of DROOL (DistRibuted Open Online Learning). Implications include a hidden but high demand for robust, course-level OER, and the possible desirability of approaching blended learning from the online experience “backwards”, as opposed to the traditional model which emphasizes the online refitting of an existing or assumed face-to-face experience.

That last part was crystallized by a chat with Kathy Chatfield down the street from here at Clark College. I’ve been fascinated with how much institutional reuse MOOCs are getting in blended scenarios, and how boundary-pushing many of those scenarios are compared to the generally conservative approaches you typically see with blended. I’ve attributed this to the robust and comprehensive nature of the MOOC materials, which provide for any level of blend and decrease what I’ve been calling “integration cost”.

That’s still all true, but what Kathy pointed out to me that it’s psychological as well; her research indicates it is much easier for people to look at a fully online course and think about what needs to be face-to-face than the other way around. Starting from a fully online course, people generally make better decisions about how to use class time. The other direction — not so much.

Thoughts? If it’s true, it’s yet another reason why we might be looking at a rebirth of open courseware as fully articulated courses designed and distributed in an LMS or LMS-like framework, with student and faculty support communities built around them.

And yes, the DROOL acronym is used here for humorous purposes only. PLEASE don’t let this become a standard term. New York Times, take note.

(P.S. I always struggle with how I write out open courseware. Obviously, with my background, I know the camel-case convention. But the convention makes it look too trademarked, too separate from more normal terms like open educational resources. So I’m trying to revitalize it by toning down the flash, OK?)

It’s Disruptive Policy not Disruptive Technology

The fever-dream formerly known as California continues to provide insight into where we as a country might be headed. This week, we’re hearing about proposed bill AB 1306, which proposes to create a new faculty-free “university” that will provide exam-based degrees. (Jim Julius, you win the prognostication prize on this one). Looking at the bill, it seems it was introduced weeks ago, but may have been caught in a reporters post-SB 520 sweep.

Here’s the relevant section:

The New University of California shall provide no instruction, but shall issue college credit and baccalaureate and associate degrees to any person capable of passing examinations.

The New University of California is authorized to contract with qualified entities for the formulation of peer-reviewed course examinations the passage of which would demonstrate that the student has the knowledge and skill necessary to receive college credit for that course.

A very new sort of university indeed. But did you catch that “authorized to contract with qualified entities” bit?

Here’s some more bill text for you:

The goal of the university is for its students to obtain the requisite knowledge and skills to pass the examinations administered by the university from any source, such as massive open online courses, the student deems appropriate. When the student feels that he or she is ready to take an examination, the student shall pay the examination fee, present acceptable identification at the examination, and, upon passage of the examination, receive academic credit.

Simple, right? The bill goes on to say that once you get enough credit through testing, you get your degree.

This is why I get so apoplectic when people talk about MOOCs as disruptive technology. There is not a single thing this “New University of California” does that could not have been done technologically in 1898. Has online education suddenly improved to the point where people can gain never-before-seen levels of competency without attending classes? Hardly. Most MOOCs I’ve looked at are poorly designed even by late 90s standards, and besides, education’s killer technology — the book — has made independent learning possible for at least 500 years.

The real question to ask is why policy proposals like this — formerly the domain of fringe elements — are increasingly seen as innovation. What has changed? The answers to that are complex, and have little to do with technology. But understanding the reasons behind *that* is what is crucial to understanding where we are headed and why we are headed there.  I think that “authorized to contract with qualified entities” clause is a piece of it. But the story goes much, much deeper than that….

“If you want to be truly useful in the world, think beyond rarefied air”

From an article on Bowen, one of the theorists behind the Cost Disease model of higher education inflation:

At a recent conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bowen looked around a room of mostly Ivy League faculty members gathered at an invitation-only conference about the future of the residential college in the digital age. There were, it was clear, few leaders from public universities or community colleges, though they arguably struggle the most with costs and have students who could most benefit from cheaper education.

“If you want to be truly useful in the world, think beyond rarefied air,” Bowen told his elite colleagues.

I can’t stress this enough. Problems at state institutions, especially less prestigious state institutions, are not at all the problems of the tier one universities. Which is why the powers that be keep solving the wrong problems again and again.

About seventy percent of American college students come through the state college systems. If you’re looking to improve educational outcomes and cost for American students and seventy percent of the people in the room *aren’t* from the state college systems, you’re probably doing it wrong. If almost no one in the room is from those systems, you’re likely doing more harm than good.

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